Residents report unusual conditions on Mackenzie River following Imperial Oil spill in Norman Wells, N.W.T.

Residents of Fort Good Hope say they’ve spotted what appears to be surface contaminants on the Mackenzie River after Imperial Oil reported a spill on Wednesday from a produced water line at its Norman Wells, N.W.T., operation.

Residents of downstream community report seeing fuel-like sheen on water surface

Part of Imperial Oil's central processing facility in Norman Wells, N.W.T., on July 26, 2022. (Liny Lamberink/CBC)

Some residents of Fort Good Hope, N.W.T., say they've spotted surface contaminants on the Mackenzie River after Imperial Oil reported a spill last week from a produced water line at its Norman Wells, N.W.T., operation. 

"We're all concerned since I know I saw something in the water," said Jim Tobac, a resident of Fort Good Hope. "And somebody went by it with a boat and it looked like oil or something."

Fort Good Hope is located downstream from Norman Wells. 

Tobac said that when the community heard that there was potentially a spill in the Mackenzie River, people started pulling their fishing nets from the water. Additionally, he said it's alarming for the community because their drinking water is from the river.

Imperial Oil estimates 55 cubic metres (55,000 litres) of produced water was spilled last week. Produced water can contain dissolved chloride and hydrocarbons.

Imperial Oil is still assessing the situation, according to a statement from the Canada Energy Regulator Friday. Even though the assessment is not yet complete, the regulator added that there are "no threats to people in Norman Wells or downstream communities."

No details have been provided on what caused the spill.

A fuel-like sheen and other surface contaminants spotted on the surface of the Mackenzie River near Fort Good Hope, N.W.T. (Lynda Lennie/Facebook, photo taken by Thomas Manuel)

Tobac also recently completed a three-and-a-half hour trip along the Mackenzie River to Norman Wells. It is a trip he has made many times.

"Usually you see black ducks and baby geese all on the river like that. And you see wildlife on the shore sometimes, but this time there's absolutely nothing," he said.

"This was the first time in my life I have not seen a bird, not even a sandpiper, not even a seagull on the Mackenzie."

Tobac said not seeing any wildlife along the Mackenzie River was very concerning for him.

In an email Thursday, Keri Scobie, a public affairs official with Imperial Oil, told CBC that the company was "still investigating whether produced water entered the Mackenzie River, " that the company was continuing to monitor water quality, and that "there are no indications there is a risk to public health or wildlife."

Scobie was not available for comment Friday.



Rose Danen


Rose Danen is a small-town reporter from Ontario. She loves telling stories about politics, social inequality, and small communities. She previously reported for CBC North in Yellowknife. She can be reached at